In nations in which the population is virtually homogeneous, the way to delineate the classes is often done by what is called ‘Branding on the Tongue‘. This term refers to how one speaks. The accent, the words used, even how the words are used is considered.
One can easily hear this by listening to the British Broadcasting Company where the ‘serious’ news presenters speak in a certain language with a particular accent, where the Sports Reporters have a different accent and use words differently.
The Motion Picture, My Fair Lady, is an excellent display of this ‘Branding on the Tongue.’ An English Professor took a Flower Seller who spoke in the Cockney accent, (recognised as that used by the under class) and taught her to speak as if she came from the Upper Class.
In Jamaica, for example, the Upper Class spoke English at the highest level. Although they would have a ‘Jamaican Accent’ or a kind of influence on the way they spoke, their English was impeccable. Considering that the Examinations given to Enter High School and University were set in Cambridge. Obtaining an ‘A’ on a G.C.E. ‘O’ level or ‘A’ level exam, was an ‘A’, for whether taken in London or Llandeway, (a town in a Parish in Jamaica) it was the same Exam.
When Michael Manley made School Free, and set University entrance on Merit and Merit Alone, many so-called ‘upper class’ people were enraged that the child of the woman who cleaned their toilet had gotten a Free Place at University and their spoiled darling did NOT.
The plot, which was incredibly successful, was to have the under class disqualify itself from higher education by pushing the Patwa fi wi langwij program.
Firstly, English examinations were replaced by ‘local’ examinations. The CXC (Caribbean Examinations) replaced the G.C.E. and obtaining qualifications in that milieu was not accepted in foreign institutions.
Secondly, there was a push, using a English Professor at the University, to write a column in a daily in Patwa. As if it were a language.
Thirdly, the demand a child speak proper English was dropped and many teachers who did not themselves speak or write proper English were hired.
The Upper Class maintained their hegemony in English so that their children would get the best places at local schools and often be sent to private schools where they could take English or American exams and step into society at a higher level than the child who graduated local schools with CXCs.
Things have become so bad that many ex-pats who operate businesses in Jamaica have to hire translators to communicate with the workers.
However, as people speak their own versions of patwa, it is not unusual that they don’t understand each other.
This often leads to convictions at the Court where the Prosecutor will ask a question in standard English and the witness or accused will not understand. The answer given by the non-English speaker often results in an unexpected conviction or surprising release, for their evidence is twisted.
In a Rape Case, a woman described being pulled off the road and taken to a house where the man had sex with her.
The Defendant’s attorney, aware of the woman’s lack of English comprehension, questioned the Complainant and used the following words.
“You were on the road when the accused embraced you?”
“And you and he strolled to the house.”
“And then, inside of the house, he made love to you?”
The accused was exonerated.
This is because the woman did not know the difference between ‘grab’ and ’embrace’ did not not understand the connotations of ‘stroll’ nor that ‘make love’ was not a synonym for rape.
By using the ability/inability to speak proper English for/against the citizen, they can be painlessly divided into classes. Those from the bottom will remain in the bottom, while those at the top remain at the top. Never again will the house holder be embarrassed by the woman who cleans the toilet having her child accepted at university contra his.
The amazing thing about the Branding is that those who are Branded are proud of their ‘brand’ and do not appreciate the limitations they have accepted for themselves and inflicted on their children.